Hannes Richter

Numeric Puzzles at the Shoe Store

Hannes Richter

by Ambassador Christian Prosl

My Saturdays belong to my wife. Last week we went on a shoe-shopping spree. Going shoe-shopping is a delicate business. For some incomprehensible reason it often makes unsolved problems suddenly become apparent. This can happen as quickly as a snowstorm over Chicago. In order to avoid problems – after all, nobody wants their car demolished or their husband hurled in the air by a thunderstorm – I exercise particular caution when my wife takes me shoe-shopping.


Ambassador Christian Prosl. Gerald Seidl

I show interest in every single shoe. Years of experience have taught me that I must not immediately say that I like this particular pair of shoes. For some reason, my wife tends to misinterpret that as a lack of interest, or as a sign of impatience, or she even thinks that I am trying to talk her into it. Of all things, this is what my wife hates the most.

I have to take my time with her, balance pros and cons, and inspect the shoe closely. Most importantly, I must utter the correct words of encouragement at the right time. It is absolutely vital to express my support not only at the right second, but also in a cautious and understanding tone of voice. And whatever I do, I must by no means declare my approval too early since that would ruin the fun of the whole seeking-and-finding game for her.

It’s just like going mushrooming in the woods. You roam from one spot to the next without an apparent target; however, the whole time you know exactly what you want! The truth of the matter is, the only thing my wife really wants is for me to confirm the choice she has already made. That’s all there is to it. But it simply takes time for her to reach that point. While she was looking for the right pair of shoes, I was looking at the saleswoman and her lengthy nose, which bore a striking resemblance to a 1.

Her nasal bone connected to the forehead on her thin, elongated face, and then down her narrow-chested body and her long, thin legs. Why do 1- shaped people always seem so spiky and nettlesome to the point of aggressiveness, and why do they seem so tense? Could she be an intellectual? Actually, the Continental 1 still looks kind of human at least, with its graceful little dash on the left, always prepared for whatever difficulties may arise.


But just picture an American 1, a straight, vertical, brutal, unyielding line, as if to say, “Take it or leave it. Here I am, and you better get out of here!” It’s blatant, it lacks its prelude but threatens you with an aftermath. “I am the number one, the ruling and dominating force.” Apropos, the American 0 is similarly shocking to me, too. It is a closed, eternal circle, it’s stand-offish, self-sufficient, round, round, round, round to the point of tumbling over. It’s a hamster wheel without mercy. Every circle is the same; it’s perfect, impersonal, inhuman, and absolute. I am already beginning to sweat! How individualistic and lovely our European zeros are in contrast to this; these ingenious ellipses with two foci; they are on fire! Every ellipsis has its own personality, some are more bulbous-shaped, others slim, there are skinny ones, open ones, closed ones, sometimes it even goes round several times and peters out. How heavenly and creative! Praise to Europe!

Anyway, even numbers send out soothing vibes in general, there is something deeply harmonious about them. I feel relaxed just looking at that curvature at the top of a 2; its opening looks inviting, its socket is petite and entwined, it looks fetching, almost slinky, and always sweet! We seem obviously destined to be together, or is it just because it’s spring? The 3, however, irritates me; it looks angry and nagging as if it was pointing its claws at me.

Nobody wants to get involved with a 3. In comparison, the 4 reminds me of an African Dogon mask. It’s very angular, it has angles all over the place, and it’s twisty and windy. It looks rather complex and has archaic features. Let’s stay off it! After all, we want an easy and cheerful life, don’t we? Oh dear, but there’s the 6! It twines around like a wicked and despicable, blaspheming snake. It entangles me while darting its tongue in and out, sizzling, I’m falling deeper and deeper and I’m trying to fight it, but there is no help in sight; it devours me with relish. Oh Father, forgive me, for I have sinned!

But as to this angular Continental 7, this lopsided creature! It’s flat and insipid on top, its corpus crossed out as if to annihilate it. Who would dare to cause offense? I certainly wouldn’t. I think the 7 is suicidal. Who would cross themselves out? The 7 just can’t love itself. The dash may be long, like poison, short like a knife thrust, or wavy. Be aware! It’s Lady Eve and she will rise again! If the dash is straight, it’s probably murder with premeditation. If the dash is descending from left to right, it suggests extinction. If it’s an ascending line, she’ll jump out of the window like an arching rainbow. Ciao Bella, ci rivediamo! The 7 is an eternal fight. Nothing will make me approach a 7.

How much better and familiar the heavenly curvaceous 8 looks; a little smaller on top, and more voluptuous at the bottom. The 8 is just so self-confident, upright, well-built, it’s almost pompous! “Take me as I am! Enjoy me to the fullest, I know what I’m worth, don’t be shy!” And things get even better when she lies down! Infinity! Infinity! I go into rhapsodies about the sun, the ocean, and the sand, a tanned smile lights you on fire, and deep, profound eternity! “Darling, I found my pair of shoes, let’s pay!” I wake up and look into the eyes of my radiant 8. I rush to the cashier, and get out my credit card. After all, my Saturdays belong to my wife!